Vroom, vroom! The SAT Writing and Language Test is the fastest-paced section of the SAT, consisting of 44 questions (split evenly among four passages) which must be completed in 35 minutes. The test is scored out of 40 points. This score combines with that of the SAT Reading Test to form the overall Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (out of 800).

The Questions on the SAT Writing and Language Test

You will encounter two main question types on the SAT W&L: Standard English Conventions and Expression of Ideas.

Standard English Conventions

SEC questions test the rules of written English, which include punctuation, usage, and syntax. Sound scary? Don’t worry (too much)—the list of topics can be grouped into just three categories.

  • Usage: Usage questions involve words, with subtopics including agreement (between subject and their verbs or pronouns and their antecedents), diction (i.e. word choice), and conjugation (e.g. verb tense).

  • Punctuation: These questions require you to know the appropriate use of common punctuation marks such as commas, periods, semicolons, colons, dashes, and apostrophes.

  • Sentence Structure: These questions test your ability to create a well-formed sentence, for which you’ll need to identify and eliminate both fragments and run-ons. Structure questions require you to recognize independent and dependent clauses and correctly use linking words (i.e. transitions and conjunctions) to create a logical flow between clauses and/or phrases.

In many cases, SEC questions aren’t even “questions”, as shown in the example below:

B) its purpose
C) their purpose
D) they’re purpose

So how do you approach a question that isn’t even a question? Start by comparing all four answer choices and noticing what’s changing. This shows you the topic(s) being tested. The question above tests your knowledge of usage (possessive pronouns, to be precise).

[For this sample question, the correct answer is B: “its” refers to the grammatically singular noun phrase, “group of words”.]

Expression of Ideas

The second SAT W&L question type focuses on the “big picture” issues of planning and editing an effective text. These questions can also be broken down into three subcategories.

  • Organization: These questions ask you to place information in the most logical location. To answer these questions successfully, examine the context of the passage, making sure your answer is consistent with both the preceding and the following sentences.

  • Development: These questions focus on the addition or deletion of information, sometimes asking about the reasoning behind this decision. Remember that although multiple answers may technically fit into the passage, only one option will satisfy the question’s specified criteria.

  • Effective Language Use: These questions ask you to create the clearest, most consistent, and most concise possible text. Eliminate any answers that don’t match the context of the passage, interrupt the flow, contain ambiguous or repetitive word choice, or change the original meaning.

Although Expression of Ideas questions can seem open-ended when compared to their SEC counterparts, just remember that the best SAT answer will always fit into the passage in a clear and logical way.

What’s Next?

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